Early Days at the Movies
Real Women in
The Seventh Art's Seventh Heaven
So What Happened
POETRY AND PROSE
A Short for the Long Fellow
IM John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006)
The slapstick of poetry was yours. But the laugh was not a line. When the leaves fell you stood out, looking as though struck by lightning. Your eyes were yokes.
Those who sat at your feet were playfully kick-started into a world where to know where you stood was to become your own statue. So leglessness was a solution. I see you reflecting in tranquility on a cloud, gently mocking Wordsworth. ‘Shelley is another matter’, you said. That was final. I thought you were Walter Savage Landor crossed with Coventry Kersey Patmore with a touch of Peacock. You had more staying power than George Barker because you knew how to move on.
I’d be happy to grant the Queen of England a pardon if she made you the Poet Laureate posthumously. Or at least Poetry’s Head Gardener. Your topiary could rise to any occasion. This would mean weeding out Andrew Motion, and uprooting the common ground to plant proud oaks. ‘The present is beyond redemption. So much has been allowed to go to seed since classical times. It’s time to civilise the past.’ The watch you consulted was stopped.
You walked in Hampton Court, amongst the labyrinth of box trees, and ever-so-scarcely noticed the people laughing as you emblazoned roses on bowers. What a sensible commotion you created around you. But the mind has its own order, and your poems found their place. Stubbs in the Heath. ‘Where are my cigarettes?’
‘How angry the
Nid de poule is the French for potholes. We have been rerouted off the motorway because of the storm. I’m driving on eggshells. Suspension, suspense.
Don’t get worked up you’re working me up. ‘A temps-pest could translate nuisance weather’, I say.
The storm disappears back into the mountains, flashing sheets of light. Static lingers in the air. The air terminal is suddenly there. ‘Not this desk, but the one over there’, says check-in, ‘and then come back.’ Real money is refused though the computer won’t register my plastic.
Don’t get worked up you’re working me up. ‘Won’t you even take a bribe?’ I say, fingering my wad. An officious woman does not smile. I see the last of you, boarding. People before walking on air always look lost. But you know where you’re going, destination announced. The steps are being wheeled away.
Returning, I could be taking off on wings of spray as I plough through the flooding. The drain before our door is clogged with leaves. In this downpour I might as well swim in the sea. I find a cave for my clothes and jump in. The shock of the cold. The sun has not shone for three days. Floating, I think I see your plane pass overhead.
I take to my bed, and dream of a simpler time. Waiting together in a small airport in the middle of nowhere. You are reading, and I am pacing around. We are going to the centre of the world where nobody has a shadow.
I wake up and I hear myself saying, I’ve shared most of my life with you and I don’t know who you are. I am talking to myself. It’s after midnight. You will have landed by now. I can’t wait for you to boomerang back.
The Mystical Tapestry
Paul Valéry, examining figures embroidered in silk by an unknown medieval artist, attributed to the tapestry a mystical dimension. Held up to the light, the figures disappear in the hunting scene, transforming the tapestry to its essence, the artist’s chase to hunt down with his hand and eye the soul of his craft and make it his own. The threads drawn to entwine that coming together could be unravelled from his life, and the peasants around him who cultivated silk worms and harvested them, the makers of the mysterious dyes, the nobleman who ordered up a scene from his life to be captured in silk. Valéry concluded that if you only see a hunt you see nothing, nothing you have not seen before.
IM M. Guittet Endymion (1965-2006)
The thin man is beautiful when he plays boules. The run up is as smooth as that of a slow medium paced cricket bowler, only the delivery is underarm. The whip of his action is almost invisible. The ball flights and curls in the air.
Thin is an exaggeration. He scarcely exists beyond the one-dimensional until the wisp of his body elongates in full flow. Close cropped head round as the ball, white drainpipes, tight vest, springy trainers soled with a doorstep of crepe.
He plays Lyonnaise boules, a game for warriors which is disappearing into a postprandial pastime to work off the wine. Common boules, with its stand-start and egg and spoon follow through, is the French equivalent to a constitutional.
has a national federation with ambitions for boules as an Olympic
it’s only a few steps above watching television. The name has
been changed to
pétanque and competitions regularised. But the image of
tipsy types with butts
stuck to the lip with nothing better to do dies hard. Wherever there is
The thin man lives across the landing with a round-faced woman of a certain age whose eyes go rheumy when she smiles. He is the houseboy, I think. She never goes out. Glimpses of their apartment intimate genteel disorder. Sometimes he brings her flowers.
In the small hours the thin man practises in the square by the light of the moon. He throws a wooden ball studded with nails rather than the common steel one. I don’t understand the game any more than ballet. So I don’t know how good he is. But I recognise a Nureyev when I see one.
When I meet him at Chez Martial, the baker, he is as formal as a famous sportsman. The hand is firmly pressed with the ‘Comment allez-vous?’ I ask him, ‘How goes the boules?’, and he answers, ‘I haven’t got it right yet’. His morning breath smells of wine. Welsh tells me it’s his medical preparation. He paces himself through the day with libations which give him confidence and a steady hand. White wine is his beta-blocker.
The federation has banned smoking and drinking in competitions, and made uniforms compulsory. Clubs are applying the rules draconically. The thin man has been dropped from the local team. He refused to wear the standard issue gear and sometimes lapsed into Lyonnaise in the middle of a match.
The nocturnal practising continues. The thin man performs to the moon, sharp now as a blade of grass. As dawn comes up he goes home. Often he is locked out. I hear him banging on the door. Sometimes he sleeps on the stairs.
The other night he did not return. Nobody knows where he is. Some say he tried to embrace the moon over the yellow river. I know better. The moon descended on the thin man and kissed him, and he fell into an everlasting game of boules for her to watch forever without disturbance. The wooden ball studded with star shards donkey-drops on the red marble, and ricochets off the yellow one.
IM Claude Jade (1948-2006)
You had the second best eyes in French film. I see them regard J-P Leaud with amused pity in Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses. Arletty’s as Garance in The Children of Paradise visited J-L Barrault’s with pitiless love. Hers were golden-blue, yours blue-grey with a silver lining. But they came from the same sky.
Eyes that say everything are not good. When least expected they turn on themselves. Arletty lost hers to a Luftwafte pilot and, after the war, not being able to look people in the eye, they went blind from desuetude. Yours saw the sadness of things as they are and disappeared into cancer.
Ogham: A Conceptual Poem
My original intention was to write a poem in Ogham. The Stone Age language of the Celts never had a literature. Its twenty letters were cut in diagonal dashes with orb relief, not unlike a game of noughts and crosses. They were mainly used to mark property boundaries, warning notices in fields.
Bull of Coolin.
That sort of thing. Ogham represents the only written evidence in early Irish law. The poets perpetuated the statutes orally, not unlike the British Constitution and the Law Lords. I dropped the idea of an Ogham poem.
But for those who wish to rise to the challenge here is the Ogham alphabet (artwork by Marita Llinares):